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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Exorcising the devil in the housing details

 Martin Cullen watered down the legislation to allow cash to be handed over in lieu of housing or sites.

THERE is broad consensus that the best way to tackle the housing crisis in the first instance is supply.
This is the mantra of the government, opposition, construction industry, and agencies involved in housing.
The Government has made a series of announcements in recent weeks about the huge sums of money that are to be invested in social housing. The latest yesterday concerned the provision of an extra 1,000 units.

However, it is now emerging that as far as speeding up the process is concerned, the devil is in the detail. Coughing up the money to get things off the ground is one thing. Ensuring that the building of houses urgently meets demand is a matter that requires diligence and precise application in the engine room of governance.

On Monday it emerged that new minimum apartment sizes introduced last month can’t be built because the smallest permissible rooms would not fit inside. Alan Kelly had hailed the lowering of mimimum sizes as a measure that would speed up the building of apartments at more affordable costs.
The new regime was included in a circular Planning Guidelines on Design Standards for New Apartments issued in December. In the rush to get the thing out — largely in response to pressure from the construction industry — somebody forgot to check the new apartment sizes against national guidelines for minimum bedroom sizes. It turns out that one into the other does not go.

Now in today’s Irish Examiner we reveal that another measure aimed at speeding up supply has hit a different, probably more serious, roadblock. Just last November, Mr Kelly’s department issued a circular giving effect to a new regime in the provision of social housing.
Social housing has been linked to private development since the Planning Act 2000. Part V of that act, which was brought in during Noel Dempsey’s tenure in Environment, instructed that 20% of new developments over a certain size had to be set aside for social and affordable housing. In basic terms, the builder had to hand over one in five homes to a local authority at cost.

The industry was not best pleased at this encroachment on profit, not to mention the knock-on effect of locating social housing in private development. Part V was an excellent provision in terms of planning, both for housing and social cohesion. But it was not good for house prices in these developments and the corresponding profit.

Within a year, the industry had a more malleable figure in charge of the Department of the Environment. Martin Cullen watered down the legislation to allow cash be handed over in lieu of housing or sites. This has the effect of increasing profit for developers, decreasing the provision of social housing, and gifting local authorities with windfalls that were ultimately swallowed in general spending.

Last year, Alan Kelly moved to belatedly put things back on track. He changed the rules to ensure that cash would no longer be accepted, but he also lowered the proportion of social housing from 20% to 10%. He said the changes would produce 4,000 new social housing units over five years.
Now problems have arisen about the circular that accompanied Mr Kelly’s new directive. Local authorities are interpreting the new rules as requiring that the details of Part V be sorted out at an early stage of the planning process.
The circular requires interaction with a whole array of local authority personnel and often others drawn from the private sector, such as valuers, to outline how Part V will be delivered.
“Getting all of those around a table is nigh on impossible,” one developer told the Irish Examiner.
“And one local authority agreed with me and said that I’d have to deal with each one individually. All of that is holding up the process before the planning application even gets under way.”
The Irish Examiner understands that at least five local authorities are now moving forward Part V on the above basis.

The second problem to arise is that the confidential information concerning site values, projected sale prices etc will be placed on record on the planning file. This is commercially sensitive and could provide competitors with a serious advantage in competing for other jobs.
Thirdly, quite often planning permission is granted for less units than were applied for. A developer might be denied his application for 50 houses, but granted it for 40 instead. In such an instance, with adjustments then required for site value and house prices, the process of putting together the Part V element must begin again.
Architect Eoin O’Cofaigh says the interpretation of the circular is “the law of unintended consequences”. Nobody wanted the new process to slow up the delivery of new homes, but that is the outcome of the application of the new rules.

There is no reason why agreement on Part V could not be thrashed out once planning permission was granted. The commencement notice giving the go-ahead for building to begin could easily be contingent on agreement on Part V being reached.
What the whole shambles does illustrate is that even when political will appears to be behind speeding up the delivery of houses, there is a serious requirement for attention to be paid to the devil in the detail.
Michael Clifford

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Chris Eubank: ‘I had the balls to fight an Irishman on St Patrick’s Day’

Former champion is still one of boxing’s most eccentric figures 20 years after his heyday

Former middleweight and super-middleweight world champion Chris Eubank on his first defeat to Steve Collins: “Collins won but if you watch that fight start to finish and score it, I didn’t lose the fight.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 ChrisEubanks doesn’t do interviews. He gives talks, he muses, he quotes. A bitter man might say his philosophies are borrowed from the life-affirming slogans of a refrigerator magnet, a cynic that his dandy clothes and affectations a piece of frivolous performance art, posed, manufactured and unreal.
He’ll tell you that world champions don’t come without heart and hurt and he’ll say that many of his performances with the monocle, cane and jodhpurs back in the Steve Collins and NigelBenn days were both real and pretend, Eubank acting out his real self.
“I was being myself in the act of being myself, which was real,” he explains. He has never denied being convoluted.

Sweeping down the main stairway of the Shelbourne Hotel, he owns the place. Blue pinstriped jacket, tie pin, starched collar, cufflinks, torn skinny jeans, flat face, flaring nostrils after 52 professionals fights, flawless brown skin, pearl white, even teeth, and looking the specimen, lean enough to step through the ropes at his beloved middleweight. He has barely changed in 20 years.

A Jungle celebrity, Eubank has lived what seems like several lives, one as an unbeaten middle weight and a world champion, another as tabloid gold, an eccentric and calamitous personality, who lost his wealth, his wife and was arrested for a typically overstated antiwar protest, the fallout of which unravelled his family.

Enigmatic patter
Then he lay on the rainforest Petri dish of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, squirmed around in the humidity selling his wordy life philosophies to a younger audience and suddenly teenagers hit upon the former boxer and marvelled at his enigmatic patter and posturing.
And here he is reciting the Warrior Code among china cups and a piano playing classical music in the background, his thumb and forefinger emphasising each heroic line.

“Divine inspiration ascending from the heart . . . He knows not anger . . . The warrior does not judge,” he says. “It’s teaching you to be pure. Words have flesh. Do you understand?”
The war protest was 2003. He drove his oversized 10-wheeled American truck to Downing Street in a one-man charge against the military occupation of Iraq. He was given a ticket for careless driving after blocking the gates and was later arrested for reversing the truck into a delivery van.

“But I’m not political,” he says. “I wasn’t educated to understand politics and the nuances behind it.
“There are certain things you must not say in spite of the fact that supposedly democracy means free speech. No. You are not allowed free speech. If you speak freely, you are then deemed as I was, to be a subversive. Do you know that word?”
Ireland knows it, he is told.

“I had become instantly a subversive for saying what was obvious. What was obvious to me I put on the back of my truck and got arrested outside Downing Street for not moving and getting on the horn and making sure the media was there.
“What I didn’t want to happen was any type of military occupation because it would cause uprising, it would cause terrorism. People say you predicted this 12 years ago. I predicted what? It was common sense then. It is common sense now.”

Eubank is personable, respectful and now speaks without a lisp but, no, no common sense. His life is an assembly of sketches but at the heart was a boxing career and personality that brought money to the sport. He once made a citizen’s arrest, moved a parked lorry without permission because it was, he says, causing an obstruction and packed two of his sons to the USA when they were teenagers.
In 2008 he handed Chris Jnr and Sebastian into the care of Irene Hutton, a Las Vegas single mother. According to the Telegraph he introduced himself to Ms Hutton in a Paris bar with the words: “Hello, I am Christopher Livingstone Eubank. I am an ambassador.”

Too pragmatic, eccentric to be wholesome? Too callous to give up his sons for temporary adoption? Through Eubank’s prism, it was the decision of a concerned parent. A parent of conspicuous action.
“Always,” he says. “Always to the detriment. I paid the price. Coming from where I come from, I can handle it. But my children, they have suffered. My first marriage suffered because of it. But I am not angry and I am not bitter. I wish I had known better. I wish I could have been counselled to understand the consequences.
“When I say my family suffered for my anti-war protesting, one of the many fallouts was having to send my two sons to America because I couldn’t keep control of them when the divorce happened . . . there are consequences for your actions.”

Eubank is nothing if not disconcerting. Concern requires remedy and for that he reaches into the Eubank vault on how to raise children while ignoring the modern tomes on best practices. Boxing is a tough business, so toughing up the kids was the first step on the ladder. He likes to reason.
“Please write this as you are hearing it,” he commands.”If you are learning how to box, any type of support will make you weak.” He pauses and the forefinger is raised. “Any type of support is counterproductive.
“The best way for me to give you a chance is for me to actually put you in a furnace. You learn by fire. How do I know this because I had to do it. That’s the reason I became . . . formidable.

“I went to a foreign land, New York City in 1982 and had no money, no respect in the gym. Everyone thinks you’re full of it. The remit in those days was break his heart, get him out of the gym. That was the ethos and that’s what it was in Vegas for Junior. They found out his name [Eubank] and said, ‘lets test him’.
“If you can pick up the skills, the craft, the art, the jostling, reading these young men, picking up what the other trainers are teaching their fighters . . . if you can do all of that, then you have a chance, a chance to fail. Because winning is almost, if not, impossible.”

He felt that failing sentiment 1995. It was St Patrick’s weekend in Millstream. Ray Close had been forced to pull out of the super middleweight bout against world champion and the Celtic Warrior stepped in. Steve Collins had a shamrock shaved into his head and a curious little man in his corner, a hypnotist called Tony Quinn.
At the weigh-in 3,000 fans turned up and Collins went around the hall telling people he was hypnotised, that he couldn’t be hurt and wouldn’t bleed. “It’s not a gamble, it’s an investment,” said Collins to betting punters preceding by 20 years Connor McGregor’s self-glorifying routines.

Collins went nose to nose with Eubank and told him he had been hypnotised and wouldn’t feel pain. In a previous fight Eubank had seriously injured opponent Michael Watson, who never fully recovered from what was an almost fatal blood clot.
In the 10th round in Millstreet Eubank floored Collins for the second time. Instead of following on to finish the bout he stood off and started talking. There was no urgency, no killer instinct. He didn’t try to dust off a jarred Collins because of Watson and what Collins had been saying.

“Yeah, I accept that, yeah,” he says, looking towards St Stephen’s Green, and hesitating again.
“Collins won but if you watch that fight start to finish and score it I didn’t lose the fight,” he says with absolute certainty.
“So I didn’t complain because sometimes it goes your way when it shouldn’t. We accept it with grace.” He illustrates his point with a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If.
“Collins beat me. Did he win it? I dropped him in the first round. I dropped him in the 10th round. Can’t lose a fight like that. But I understand. I’m sure there are three fights in my career I shouldn’t have won but I did.
“But you are missing the point and the public are missing the point. This is the point. It wasn’t about Steve Collins. It wasn’t about an Irishman being the first to beat Chris Eubank.

Champion of the world
“This was about the man who was champion of the world, who had . . .”
His two fists are out in front clenched hard over the small round table. People at the adjoining table glance sideways as he searches for the right word.
“Balls,” he says. “The balls to come to Ireland on St Patrick’s Day weekend and fight another Irishman when I didn’t need to. I came here twice. This is not about winning or losing. This is about balls. This is about defiance. Ireland. St Patrick’s Day. This is about spirit.

“The second fight I should tell you . . . Collins didn’t have what it took to beat me. In truth, I was by far the superior fighter. By far.
“That second fight, no mind games, he beat me comprehensively. Not with skill. Not with strategic measures. Here is a man fighting with everything heroic about the spirit of the human.

“And here is a lovely line. Get this,” he says and stops. Then speaks for seven minutes. He finishes with his son Junior, a hugely talented middleweight beaten by Billy Joe Saunders, the same English boxer who defeated Andy Lee for his world title.
The same Junior, tempered in the furnace of Vegas, was “out gamed” by Saunders and lost the first six rounds. No recovery there. Eubank senior, who once labelled boxing as ‘a mug’s game’ is typically absolutist about his son and may have good reason to be. One loss in 22 and a 73 per cent win by KO, his world ranking is nine.
“Someone who is a force of nature in their field . . . It’s like Usain Bolt,” he says. “You know, when a record is a hit no one has to tell you. You can hear it.
“When I am looking at my son Junior . . . his ability is extraordinary. He is a danger and that’s the wonderful thing. Like Tyson back in the day, he was a danger. Junior is a danger.”

Eubank courteously stands and offers his hand. Forty-nine years old and still in the act of being himself.

Johnny Watterson

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Year Of The Titanic

A wealth of fascinating detail can be seen in this archive photo taken on a sunny summer's day in Skibbereen in 1912. 

WHILE today, we rightly bemoan the slow death of the Irish village, it was the nucleus of everyday life for most of rural Ireland a century ago.
It is very easy to forget when reading or viewing historical or dramatic representations of the 1916 Rising how different things were, and how those things we take for granted could not have been dreamt of back then.
A glimpse at the pages of a directory from 1916 helps to give just a small flavour of how different life was.

Take a random example, Reenascreena in West Cork, five miles from Rosscarbery.
The village was in the news last summer as it was the birthplace of the exiled Fenian, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. His funeral in August 1915 marked the first real public display of the strength of the Irish Volunteers, and its centenary provided the first official ceremony in the State commemorations for 1916.

A century ago, the entries in Guy’s County & City Directory for residents and businesses in the village are topped by James White, the local postmaster — perhaps the most central figure in many an Irish village.

Before email, couriers, television or widespread ownership of radios, letters were the main mode of conveying personal news or transmitting business correspondence. If it was more urgent than sending a letter, a five-mile journey to the town of Rosscarbery would allow anyone send a telegraph or money order.

There were two larger employers in the area, Coakley’s flax and corn mills, and the Reenascreena woollen mills. In other villages, these might have been replicated by flour or saw mills.
James White also had a pub, one of two in the village which also had a blacksmith, a carpenter, a weaver, and a shopkeeper. James Collins was an egg, poultry and butter exporter, as well as a general produce merchant.

There was also a creamery in Reenascreena, and around the country growing numbers of villages had their own local co-operative society creamery, a phenomenon that was on the rise since the 1890s.
These listings alone give an idea how local farmers could sell much of their produce locally, and could source much of their provisions without having to drive the pony and cart even to the nearest large town.

While Reenascreena is not listed as having its own police barracks, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) did have a presence in many similarly-sized small settlements. With its population of 185, the nearby larger village of Leap had an RIC station under the charge of Sergeant Frank Boland.
Rosscarbery held a market every Wednesday, and fairs for cattle, sheep, and horses in August, September, and December. With such regular influxes of traders and buyers, it boasted no fewer than three hotels, two blacksmiths, three drapers, and its directory listings included nearly a dozen dressmakers and tailors, and five shoemakers, in the days before mass-produced garments were shipped in from Asia or elsewhere.

It may have had a population of just 475, but the people of Rosscarbery were served by 21 vintners, most of them vying for business on the town square.
Also on the square were two of the town’s seed and manure merchants, one of its three saddlers, two of the town’s four egg merchants, both its coal merchants, and both bakers. The town had a fishmonger, six fowl dealers, and almost a dozen carpenters, builders, and masons.
The likes of Rosscarbery or nearby Skibbereen, one of the largest of Co Cork’s towns, handled a lot of incoming traders on market and fair days. But while global warming was not yet on the agenda, there were probably enough traffic ‘emissions’ to keep the urban or rural district council’s street sweepers busy for a few hours after.

As for general transport, the absence of motor cars — except for those owned by the very wealthy — was not as big a problem as one might think.
Cork, the largest county on the island, had a network of railways that is almost inconceivable a century later, although remnants of the lines are still in place in many instances.
Between Cork and Macroom, for example, there were three daily services for passengers in each direction, offering first, second, and third-class fares. Along the 25-mile route, passengers were picked up and dropped at stations in Ballincollig, Killumney, Kilcrea, Crookstown, and Dooniskey.
But the railways depended on more than passenger fares for business, carrying mail every day, as well as livestock and agricultural produce going to weekly markets.

Other lines running to Cork in the early 20th century included the Cork and Muskerry Railway, linking the western edge of the city to Blarney, Coachford, Donoughmore, and intermediate stations as it wound its way north of the River Lee.

The Cork-Mallow line still exists today as part of the rail link with Dublin, but in 1916 it was part of the Great Southern and Western Railway. In those days, passengers could continue on arrival from Cork on to Queenstown (now Cobh), where there was a vital connection to the passenger and mail ships that landed and departed there every day.

Or from Mallow, where modern passengers can still connect for Kerry stations, those heading east could board services bound for Rosslare, via Fermoy, Lismore, Dungarvan, and Waterford.
For communities in West Cork, there was the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway, bringing passengers from as far west as Schull near the most southerly point on the island.
Along the line running as far as Skibbereen and Baltimore, there were branches for Kinsale, Clonakilty, Courtmacsherry, and Bantry along the coast, and stopping in villages like Ballineen, Durrus, and Timoleague along those routes.

While rail travel was affordable for some, for many in Cork city and county there was only poverty.
The Cork Examiner of Wednesday, January 19, 1916, reported on a meeting of the visiting committee to Cork Poor Law Union’s workhouse, where relief was provided for the unemployed and the destitute.

The workhouse buildings at Douglas Road, today part of the St Finbarr’s Hospital complex, had seen a fall in numbers but still accommodated 1,525 people.
Despite reducing numbers, rising costs associated with the war had seen a jump of £120 — the combined yearly earnings of up to 10 casually-employed farm labourers — over two years in the weekly cost of food, coal, and other provisions.

One committee member questioned why up to one-quarter of the stock of some clothing items in the workhouse, such as men’s shoes and shirts, women’s shoes, and boys’ shirts, had been condemned. The same Mr Williams was equally critical of the guardians having “over-bought” on clothing when prices were expected to fall in the coming year.
His fellow member, a Mrs Lynch, told the meeting: “It would be better to have a smaller stock than be in debt.”

Niall Murray

Phoney war of the general election gets under way

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD and Justice spokesperson Niall Collins. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Typical of much of it was a policy launch by Fianna Fáil on crime. At the launch, Justice spokesman Niall Collins brought up rural Garda stations.
“Fine Gael and Labour closed 139 Garda stations, saving a measly €556,000 while rural communities are left unprotected,” his press release thundered. “This policy was extremely short-sighted and has increased rural isolation. The principle of community policing has all but been completely eroded by the Government.” This sterling defence of rural Garda stations might lead one to believe that Fianna Fáil would reopen them once in power. But Mr Collins told the Irish Examiner’s Elaine Loughlin that decision would be up to the Garda Inspectorate.
That little vignette goes to the heart of what passes for politics here. In opposition you surf all waves of discontent, but once you assume power you change your principles and keep the head down.

It is safe to say that the Garda Inspectorate will not recommend the re-opening of the vast majority, if not all, the stations. And should Fianna Fáil be in power after the election, they will shrug shoulders and say ‘let’s all move on’.

The rural station issue is indicative of a wider malaise. There is no planning for anything that might generate short-term discontent, even though the ultimate goal is long term improvement.
In a proper political culture, plans would have been set in train years ago to close those stations. Most of them dated from the 19th century when the motor car was a novelty. The nature of crime was a world away from today. The character of society was also from a different planet.

In a proper political culture, a long-term plan for closures would have been announced. A period of wind-down would be initiated during which a proper system of patrolling and operating satellite clinics would be developed. This transition phase would allow time to reassure citizens in affected areas that the closures will not impact on their peace of mind. Only then, when the proper groundwork is completed, and compensating measures fully implemented, would the stations close.
Instead, it took a collapsed economy to tackle what should have been completed a decade previously. The political classes are petrified to do the right thing when there is a short-term cost.

A similar case could be made in relation to hospitals. Since 1970 a succession of reports recommended consolidating the number of hospitals, while retaining community and some diagnostic facilities. For at least 20 years, experts in emergency medicine said that fewer emergency facilities with greater throughput was the best solution for the population as a whole.

Yet precious little was done until recent years. A proper political culture would have accepted the inevitable and concentrated on ensuring that centres of excellence and ambulance services were fully resourced to accommodate the closures. Only then would the outlying Emergency Departments (ED) be closed down.

Instead, it’s been piecemeal and haphazard. One obvious example is University Hospital Limerick, which has had major Emergency Department overcrowding. The closures of facilities in Ennis and Nenagh have added greatly to Limerick’s problems. Why wasn’t the centre of excellence properly developed before the other EDs closed? Why wasn’t there a transitionary period of years focused directly on making the leap?

The challenge of developing the country in a sustainable manner has been there for about 50 years. In the mid-60s, the United Nations commissioned a planning report on behalf of the government. The Buchanan Report was published in 1969. It pointed out that major change was coming to a country that had until that point been predominantly rural. Buchanan recommended that there be nine areas designated for growth in the state, including Dublin, Cork and Limerick/Shannon.

This was based on projections about long-term urbanisation in the Western world. The government of the day examined the proposals for three years before throwing it out the window. A scattergun approach to development was favoured instead in case anybody outside the growth areas might be offended.

Thirty years later, the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) recommended concentrating on 18 locations across the State, again in the name of ensuring long-term sustainability. The strategy was to be a blueprint for locating decentralised agencies of government. And what happened? In 2003, Charlie McCreevy pulled out his scattergun and sprayed 53 locations in the State with decentralisation, including goodies for ministerial constituencies.

It was a political masterstroke which showed contempt for the long-term future of the country. Nobody outside the NSS’s 18 locations was left disappointed. Everybody got a slice of the pie. Plenty of work for builders and auctioneers everywhere. A stroke to be referenced right across the State at the next election. And the real cost was placed on the never-never.
A report to be published soon by the Department of the Environment is expected to be highly critical of McCreevy’s stroke. Decentalisation dealt a near fatal blow to the NSS. The strategy limped on until finally in 2013 Phil Hogan put it out of its misery.

The latest attempt at implementing a plan in this vein has just been put back until after the election. It was revealed last week that the new 20-year national planning framework will not be published until the votes are all counted. Once again, the future of the country is playing second fiddle to the ballot box.

The imperative is that nobody be disappointed by a plan that earmarks growth for some areas and not for others. If form is anything to go by, the framework will be the source of some torturous debate by the new government before being shelved. Let the children worry about the future because there might be short-term political cost involved.

Right now, everything that was predicted by Buchanan nearly 50 years ago is coming to pass. Industry, and particularly foreign direct investment, is determining where growth will occur. Foreign companies have no stake in the development of the State so they all congregate around fewer centres than envisaged by previous plans.

The chance to shape a State of balanced development has passed. This, as much as anything else, is at the heart of the two-tier economy emerging from recession. A failure to act on forecasted change, and plan accordingly, has left large tracts of rural and even urban Ireland to fend for themselves. That truth needs to be acknowledged even at this late stage.

Michael Clifford